Mutual Benefit's debut will steal your heart

In an age of torrential information, rare is the frisson of discovery.

It's increasingly tough to get a skin-tingling sense of wonder, of chancing upon something so luminescent and untethered to trends.

A few debut albums have had that transformative effect on me.

I remember being walloped by the passion of Montreal alt-rockers Arcade Fire's 2004 debut Funeral and the spectral honesty of Wisconsin indie-folk troubadour Bon Iver's 2007 debut For Emma, Forever Ago.

And now, another record has come out of nowhere to steal my heart: Love's Crushing Diamond, the proper debut by Jordan Lee, a peripatetic American based in Brooklyn.

Going by a humble moniker Mutual Benefit, Lee recorded these songs on the road, intending the album initially to be available only on cassettes.

Excellent word-of-mouth means Love's Crushing Diamond will soon be available in multiple formats - for now, it's available on iTunes.

The music recalls folkish Sufjan Stevens; the hushed moments of the late indie rocker Elliott Smith; and in the way instruments and voice unite in a seemingly artless manner, reminds one of the San Franciscan band Vetiver's 2006 album To Find Me Gone, specifically its opening track Been So Long.

The first track, Strong River, shimmers into life, chimes and percussion stirring from dream. Lee's voice, too, is a creature of wonder. Kiwi bird-shy, it chirps.

The gentleness rivets.

Its exquisite beauty belies some tough human decisions one has to make.

On Golden Wake, driven by what sounds like a factory motor churning ad nauseam, he decides to quit his job when he realises on a river walk that "we weren't made to be afraid".

That's what makes Mutual Benefit so special. Lee's intimations may be personal, but they are also communal, drawing all into his warm embrace.

Advanced Falconry captures the moment of being slayed by love. "And she talks softly/Sees through me/Says something/I can't hear it," he sings, slowly levitating himself.

Elsewhere, one learns life isn't a bed of roses and you have to strive for it.

His characters are ensnared in the penumbra, looking "for God in an empty motel room" (The Light That's Blinding) or swimming against currents (Strong Swimmer).

And so you immerse in the ambivalent waters of Mutual Benefit.

Never fully aware of the power of the undertow, you saunter into it anyway.

Album of the week



Mutual Benefit

Soft Eyes/Other Music

Recording Co

**** 1/2

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